The Grand Council of the Cree (GCC) recently recognized the Washaw Sibi at the Annual General Assembly (AGA) in Waskaganish. The name Washaw Sibi essentially entails Cree people who are off reserve and might not be coming back to the territory, but want to affirm their rights as Crees. This includes Crees living in Val d’Or, and the surrounding regions, including Amos, where the band council is located.
The struggle for recognition as a band has been going on for many years. The result of which was the formation of a Washaw Sibi association in 1997.
Presently the Washaw Sibi have no reserve land, though negotiations are ongoing to eventually acquire a land base. They are essentially in limbo; they still have their Cree beneficiary status, and live within the territory covered by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA), yet are having trouble accessing the programs and financial benefits that are available to other Cree.
“There are some aspects yet to be discussed that are up to Cree discretion, and there are other aspects that will require federal funding. We’ll just have to see how ready the government is to move ahead with that,” said Brian Craik, spokesman for the Grand Council of the Cree (GCC).
“They (Washaw Sibi) will have to work with the Crees, and with the government what their recognition as the tenth Cree band means, financially, legally, and socially.”
Billy Katapatuk, who was elected as Chief of the Washaw Sibi in their first ever election of Chief and council at the end of July, was elated that his community of around 250-300 members was finally recognized. “We are glad that we were recognized, but that’s just a start for us. Now we need to continue to work on the needs of our people.”
“We don’t have land yet, that is something we’ll be working on. That is something that’s up to our young people and our elders to make that decision, because it’s the young people who will be living there in the future. There’s a lot of work to do yet, a lot of discussions, and political aspects to be taken care of for Washaw Sibi. We’re moving ahead and we want the people to see that we’re serious about what we’re doing,” he said.
“We have people living here that haven’t been recognized for a long time, and it’s time to do the things that are right for them. We’re looking forward to a new community for Washaw Sibi.”
In order to let their position be known across Eeyou Istchee, the representatives of Washaw Sibi set out to each community to voice their concerns, and to state their case as to why they should be recognized by other Cree. They also had consultations with the GCC, which eventually led to full recognition.
When it came to voting for acceptance of Washaw Sibi as part of the Cree Nation, two Chiefs abstained (Edward Gilpin, Eastmain, and John Longchap, Mistissini). Katapatuk said that he would be meeting with them in the near future to discuss their concerns, as well as to go over exactly what their membership will mean to the rest of the Nation. He wants to assure them that nothing will be taken away from any of the other nine communities by accepting Washaw Sibi as the tenth.
“We’d like to move on in the negotiations. A lot of people are passing away, so we don’t want to wait too long, it’s very important that we settle this issue as quickly as we can,” said Katapatuk.